Spear grass is a type of wild grass is commonly found throughout the region. It starts growing in the early spring, but by late May/early June, it dries out and exfoliates its barbed seeds. These seeds (or grass awns) easily penetrate the skin of passing animals, and commonly lead to foreign body reactions and infections between the toes, in the ears, eyes, mouth and even up the nose!
During the summer months, we commonly see pets with interdigital swellings (often with dogs licking/chewing at one of their feet), sudden-onset ear discomfort, sudden sneezing or pawing at the nose, or abscesses of the skin. Most times heavy sedation is needed to explore the affected areas, and antibiotics are commonly needed for secondary infections that result from the seed pods embedding within the skin. Spear grass seeds in the nostrils may require rhinoscopy to fully identify and remove, generally requiring a specialist referral.
It is important to try to avoid areas where dried spear grass is flourishing, and be sure to check your dog after a walk or a hike – especially between the toes – for any evidence of the barbed seed pods. If these are removed before they penetrate the skin, problems can often be prevented.
Sarah McTavish, DVM
Although Victoria doesn't usually see the extreme heat and humidity common in the eastern provinces, we often do see summertime temperatures which can overwhelm your pet's cooling mechanisms, leading to heat stroke. It's important to understand this deadly condition and take steps to prevent it during the warmer months.
What is heat stroke?
Heat stroke is an inability to properly eliminate heat build-up in the body. It can lead to organ failure and even death if severe enough. Our pets are especially vulnerable when placed in areas of heat concentration (like a car on a sunny day), or if subjected to strenuous exercise in warm temperatures.
Humans sweat to cool off, thanks to a few billion sweat glands in our skin. Dogs and cats have very limited sweating abilities - they have minimal sweat glands in their paw pads. Dogs (and sometimes cats) will generally pant to cool off, but this may not be adequate in severe weather or activity. Humidity can reduce the effectiveness of panting as a cooling mechanism which can compound the issue.
Dogs especially have varying abilities to tolerate heat stress. Overweight dogs and brachycephalic breeds ("pushed in face" breeds, such as pugs and bulldogs) are at a significantly higher risk of heat-related illnesses. Additionally, many dogs have a high play drive, and will continue to run around despite becoming overheated. It is important for pet owners to limit activities on hot days, and provide shade and fresh water to help their playful companions cool down.
Signs of heat stroke
Common signs of heat stroke are
If you are concerned your pet may be overheated, apply cool (not cold) water and damp towels. Seek veterinary attention immediately!
NEVER leave your pet in the car on a warm day, even if the windows are rolled down. Temperatures can skyrocket quickly!!!
Sarah McTavish, DVM